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KHN First Edition: April 21, 2016


First Edition

Thursday, April 21, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiser Health News: Medicare Delays Plans For New Star Ratings On Hospitals After Congressional Pressure
Kaiser Health News staff writer Jordan Rau reports: "Bowing to pressure from the hospital industry and Congress, the Obama administration on Wednesday delayed releasing its new hospital quality rating measure just a day before its planned launch. The new “overall hospital quality” star rating aimed to combine the government’s disparate efforts to measure hospital care into one easy-to-grasp metric. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services now publishes more than 100 measures of aspects of hospital care, but many of these measures are technical and confusing since hospitals often do well on some and poorly on others. The new star rating boils 62 of the measures down into a unified rating of one to five stars, with five being the best." (Rau, 4/20)

Kaiser Health News: Cities Begin To Count The Scars Of Childhood, And Try To Prevent New Damage
Kaiser Health News staff writer Sarah Varney reports: "Kimberly Cervantes has spent much of her young life learning to outwit the perils of Compton. At 19, she’s street smart and savvy, but Cervantes’ maturity was born out of a violent childhood. In high school, she was assaulted on a public bus. In middle school, she witnessed the deaths of two students. The steady exposure to violence has led Cervantes to some dark places — including crippling anxiety and thoughts of suicide. ... In an unprecedented move, Cervantes and four other students are suing the Compton Unified School District, arguing that the trauma they have faced makes it difficult to learn and demanding that the district offer them additional support, in much the same way schools must accommodate students with autism, dyslexia and other disabilities." (Varney, 4/21)

The Washington Post's Wonkblog: The Big Way Obamacare Helps The Poor Isn’t Really About Their Health
President Obama's health-care reform law made government health insurance available to more people living in poverty or near poverty by expanding Medicaid. The hope was to improve people's physical health, but new research shows an important effect on financial health: The law has helped many poor Americans pay off the collection agent. The analysis, conducted by a team of university researchers and members of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, estimates that those who signed up for Medicaid under the law reduced their collection balances by $600 to $1,000 each. (Ehrenfreund, 4/20)

The New York Times: Flint Water Crisis Yields First Criminal Charges
Three government workers were charged with crimes on Wednesday for their roles in this city’s water crisis, accused in part of covering up evidence of lead contamination. The workers — an employee of Flint and two state workers assigned to monitor water quality in cities — are the first to face criminal charges in connection with the failures that left residents of this city drinking foul and unsafe water for many months. (Davey and Perez-Pena, 4/20)

The Wall Street Journal: Three Officials Criminally Charged Over Flint Water Crisis
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced charges against Stephen Busch, who was a district supervisor in the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance during the water crisis; Michael Prysby, a former district engineer with the DEQ; and Michael Glasgow, a supervisor at Flint’s water-treatment plant. Messrs. Busch and Prysby were each charged with three felony counts, including for allegedly misleading federal environmental officials and tampering with evidence related to lead testing of Flint’s water. Mr. Prysby faces an additional felony count for authorizing the operation of the Flint water-treatment plant when he allegedly knew it couldn’t provide safe drinking water. The men also face two misdemeanor counts. (Maher, 4/20)

The Associated Press: Details About The 3 Officials Charged In Flint Water Crisis
The first criminal charges have been filed in Flint’s lead-tainted water crisis, including allegations that two state regulators and a Flint water plant supervisor tampered with evidence and that the state regulators knowingly misled U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials and the county health department. The Michigan city switched from Detroit’s drinking water system to the Flint River in April 2014 as a cost-saving measure, but failed to treat river water with corrosion-control chemicals — an omission that allowed lead to leach from aging pipes and fixtures and contaminate tap water for 18 months. Here’s who was charged Wednesday and their connections to the crisis. (Webber, 4/20)

The Associated Press: Senate GOP Shoots For Quick Action On Zika Funding Bill
Democrats say top GOP lawmakers are proposing to partially fund President Barack Obama’s request for money to fight the Zika virus. The $1.1 billion measure circulating Wednesday comes in advance of an Appropriations panel meeting on Thursday and was being worked on with Democrats in hopes of winning their support. The measure has not been finalized and is part of continuing negotiations. The money would be used to try to slow the spread of the Zika virus and develop a vaccine against it. (Taylor, 4/20)

The New York Times: Senators Consider Funding Plan To Address Zika Threat
Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Health and Human Services appropriations subcommittee who has been involved in the discussions, said lawmakers were working to reach an agreement that would address Zika, which has been linked to serious birth defects. “Protecting women and families from the serious risks the Zika virus poses should not be a partisan issue, so I’m glad that Republicans are now working with us to put much-needed resources into this effort,” she said in a statement. “Negotiations are continuing and I’m very hopeful we’ll be able to reach a final agreement.” (Huetteman, 4/20)

Los Angeles Times: On The Frontline Of Brazil’s War With Zika, A Mother’s First Question: ‘How Big Is The Head?’
It’s 7:30 a.m. and the hallway outside the neurosurgeon’s office at the Pedro I Municipal Hospital is filling with mothers and their babies. The women arrive with questions: Will their children ever learn to walk? Will they ever speak? The doctor, Alba Batista, wishes she had answers. She used to see two, maybe three cases of microcephaly a year. But since December, more than 40 newborns with the condition — an abnormally small skull, often with an underdeveloped brain — have shown up at Pedro I. (Zavis, 4/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Contraception Case Shows No Signs of Compromise
The Obama administration and religiously affiliated employers in a final round of legal briefs Wednesday moved no closer to a compromise for covering contraception in workers’ insurance plans, likely leaving it to the eight-member Supreme Court to settle the dispute. The justices in an unusual step had requested supplemental briefs from both sides on a potential solution as they sought a way to avoid a potential 4-4 split following the February death of the court’s ninth justice, Antonin Scalia. The high court is reviewing a dispute over the 2010 health-care law requirement that employers provide birth-control coverage for workers. (Radnofsky, 4/20)

Reuters: Planned Parenthood Hits States On Defunding After U.S. Warning
Planned Parenthood, the women's healthcare group under attack recently by U.S. anti-abortion activists, hit back on Wednesday, criticizing some states for trying to block funding for the organization. Shortly before making a speech at Georgetown University, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told reporters that a letter sent on Tuesday to state Medicaid agencies makes clear that efforts to defund her group are illegal. (Cassella, 4/20)

The Associated Press: Abortion Procedure Challenged As 'Torture' In Alabama
A commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure would be illegal under a new bill debated in the Alabama legislature on Wednesday. The House Health Committee held a public hearing on a bill that supporters say would prohibit a medical procedure called dilation and evacuation, or "D&E." The bill would allow the procedure, which it describes as "dismemberment abortion," in the event of a "serious health risk to the mother." (4/20)

NPR: Some Firms Save Money By Offering Employees Free Surgery
Lowe's home improvement company, like a growing number of large companies nationwide, offers its employees an eye-catching benefit: Certain major surgeries at prestigious hospitals are free. How do these firms do it? With a way of paying that's gaining steam across the health care industry, and that Medicare is now adopting for hip and knee replacements in 67 metropolitan areas, including New York, Miami and Denver. (Tomsic, 4/20)

The Associated Press: Breakthrough Cholesterol Drugs Fizzle Amid Price Pushback
When a powerful pair of cholesterol-lowering drugs first hit the market last summer, initial excitement in the medical community quickly turned to panic. The new drugs promised to reduce artery-clogging cholesterol by nearly twice as much as older ones. But they came at an eye-popping price: more than $14,000 per year, compared with roughly $150 for the standard drugs. Some experts predicted a doomsday scenario in which the two injectable drugs, Repatha and Praluent, would add a staggering $100 billion to the U.S. drug bill as doctors signed up millions of patients with elevated cholesterol. But then something unexpected happened: not much. (4/20)

The Associated Press: Novartis Profits Dip As Generic Rival Challenges Cancer Drug
Swiss pharmaceuticals maker Novartis says net income from continued operations fell 13 percent in the first quarter as generic competition cut into sales of Gleevec, one of the first very effective cancer medicines. The Basel-based company said Thursday that net income from continuing operations declined to $2.01 billion from $2.31 billion a year earlier. Sales dipped 3 percent to $11.6 billion. (4/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Novartis Earnings Fall On Slide In Cancer-Drug Sales
Novartis is leaning heavily on new drugs to offset declining revenue from Gleevec, which fell 22% to $834 million, now that a cheaper generic version of the medicine is available. The company said it increased spending on marketing and sales by 1.1 percentage point to 23.6% of sales to promote its newer drugs. It said revenue from those so-called growth products increased 24% in the quarter to $3.9 billion. Still, sales of one of Novartis’ most important drug launches, Entresto for heart failure, were still “modest” in the first quarter, at $17 million. The drug has so far proved a disappointment, as a result of doctors’ hesitation to switch stable patients onto a new medicine and delays in securing reimbursement from cost-conscious health insurers in the U.S. (Roland, 4/21)

The Wall Street Journal: Glaxo Investors Want CEO Who Can Revitalize R&D
As GlaxoSmithKline PLC’s search for a new boss gets under way, one requirement ranks high on investors’ wish lists: someone who can breathe new life into its drug-development machine. The company’s pharmaceuticals arm, which develops prescription medicines and accounts for around two-thirds of its £23.9 billion ($34 billion) annual revenue, has lagged behind many of its peers in recent years, according to investors. Glaxo has notched a total shareholder return of 60% over the past five years, compared with 107% for the S&P Global 1200 Health Care Index. For many, fixing this is seen as the top priority for the successor to Chief Executive Andrew Witty, who recently announced plans to retire next March. (Roland and Lublin, 4/21)

Reuters: Oklahoma Can Consider PTSD In Sentencing Veterans Under Proposed Law
An Oklahoma bill that allows judges to take into consideration a diagnosis of PTSD for veterans unanimously passed the state Senate on Tuesday, adding to a series of U.S. laws seeking to address mental illness among military veterans. Oklahoma House Bill 2595 allows judges to take into account a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a mitigating factor when sentencing veterans who have been diagnosed with the illness. (Brandes, 4/20)

The New York Times: Hearing Aid Prices Under Pressure From Consumer Electronics
The consumer electronics industry is encroaching on the hearing aid business, offering products that are far less expensive and available without the involvement of audiologists or other professionals. That is forcing a re-examination of the entire system for providing hearing aids, which critics say is too costly and cumbersome, hindering access to devices vital for the growing legions of older Americans. “The audiology profession is obviously scared, for good reason, right now,” said Abram Bailey, an audiologist and chief executive of Hearing Tracker, a consumer website. (Pollack, 4/20)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2016 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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